03 October 2005


Being a bit perplexed about the food shopping situation, I asked around and found that there was a local, outdoor market very close by. If you look around where I live, you get the impression that this section of town, and the area surrounding it, was empty until less than ten years ago. Not so.

Just a ways down the road is a whole part of HCMC that has always been there, including the Cho Tan My market. I went there to shop at around 11am today, which was sort of stupid, since most sellers had already closed up. Still, I scored a few deals.

It’s a little too far to walk to, so I took a taxi. I wasn’t at all sure if it would be a long narrow street with stalls set up on both sides and down the middle, or if it would be in a covered building. When the driver dropped me off, (and please note: I told him where I wanted to go in Vietnamese, and he understood!), I still wasn’t sure. I walked around a bit, then noticed a more or less main entry area.
Mostly there were empty spaces with debris on the ground, but a few vendors were, nonetheless, open for business.

Looking down the passageway as I walked, I saw that there was indeed a building into which the market extended. I strolled on over and went inside. Men and women were busy dismantling their wares, but it looked as though inside they sold clothing and fabric and dry goods. I knew the produce and meats people were done for the day, but wasn’t sure if the clothing stores opened again after lunch.

I figured I’d better get to it if I were to find some papayas before closing time. Unfortunately, none were to be found, but I did get bananas, carrots, watermelon and ginger, for next to nothing. Then I spotted the shoe stall. I’d been looking for cheap flip-flops for the longest time.

I pointed to what I wanted and held up my fingers to indicate size. The woman handed me a pair of like size 5 flips. My feet are size 8-81/2, which is not gargantuan in the US, but seems to be here. I shook my head and held up 4 fingers. I needed a size 40, at least. She called out to her son, who dug around and found a pair. I tried them on. Probably could have used a 42, but I didn’t see any. And at one third the price I had paid for the pair I’d purchased the first week here, who cared? In fact I splurged and bought a second pair. Had they a size 42, I would have bought more.

From there I walked back out to the street to where I had seen a house wares store. I tried to find a squeegee floor cleaner, but they didn’t have one. They may not use them here, which would be tragic considering I now live in miles of tiles and only a squeegee will do. At least I was able to buy a bunch of hangers.

By now I was really hot and sweaty, and carrying a load of stuff. I started up the main road and looked around for a taxi. Whoops, there were not going to be any here. There were tons of those motor-scooters-for-hire, but I do not do motorbikes! “You will, eventually”, I am constantly told. And it would make life easier, and a whole lot cheaper than taxis, but the answer is still NO! In time, I hope to get a bicycle. Anyway, I knew that there would be a line of taxis just up the road in front of the French Vietnamese Hospital.

On my way there, I dropped into yet another household supplies store and bought a kitchen knife and a plastic stool. Exiting the shop, I gave one more hopeful glance up and down the street for a taxi.

Rounding a bend in the road, I could see that there were indeed a line of taxis in front of the hospital, which was still a far walk up the road. Maybe if I waved they would see me. Generally, just being a foreigner walking anywhere in Vietnam means you will automatically be honked at by drivers looking for a fare. And I really stood out in this part of town.

I raised my hand that held the stool and waved as I walked. I could see the drivers sitting under the trees. Surely, one would notice me. But I just kept on walking and waving and sweating. As I got almost to the first parked car’s bumper, they all suddenly saw me and started to scramble for their cars. I wasn’t sure if they had a line and I should go to the first one. Finally, I decided to just stop, let them sort it out, and wait where I was.

Next time I will go at 7 or 8 in the morning, and practice my shopping Vietnamese beforehand. It’s embarrassing that I still don’t really know the numbers, which are never hard to learn.

Shana Tova
May the New Year be filled with health, peace, happiness and love.